By Jill King Greenwood
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Pennsylvania is the only state that does not allow expert witness testimony about victim behavior to be offered during sexual assault criminal trials, such as the upcoming proceedings against former Penn State football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky.
A bill in the state Senate Judiciary Committee would change that, and the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape wants to see the measure expedited into law.
House Bill 1264, sponsored by state Rep. Cherelle Parker, D-Philadelphia, and co-sponsored by Rep. Kate Harper, R-Montgomery County, would allow experts to address questions about victim behavior in sex assault cases, including why a person abused in childhood might wait for decades to report the assaults.
"If victims finally get the courage to come forward and report the abuse, they should not be further victimized by having the very normal behaviors and reactions of a sex assault victim looked upon as abnormal by a court or a jury who simply isn’t educated in these things," Parker said on Friday.
The bill passed through the House Judiciary Committee and was unanimously approved in the House, then forwarded to the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Diane Moyer, legal director for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, a supporter of the measure.
Moyer said her organization supports advancing the bill quickly, especially with the national spotlight focused on the child sex abuse scandal at Penn State.
Former Penn State football defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was charged with 40 counts of child sex last month, and authorities allege he abused eight boys from 1994 to 2009. Sandusky’s attorney, Joseph Amendola, did not return calls for comment, but in recent weeks has said he doubts some details provided by the alleged victims regarding their abuse.
"This is the time to move this forward and help courts, juries and the public better understand why a person who was abused as a child might not disclose the abuse for decades," Moyer said. "These child predators often shower the child with gifts and trips and then at the same time threaten to hurt them or their family if they tell anyone what is really happening. ... Often adults who are abused as children only come forward when they learn their abuser is still in a position of trust and power with children, and they speak up to save another child from the abuse."
In addition to the coalition, the bill is supported by the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and the state Office of the Victim Advocate.
Harper said Judiciary committees in the House and the Senate are busy, receiving up to 40 percent of all the legislation introduced in Harrisburg. She expects the bill will advance.
"It is not being ignored, and there is wide bipartisan support for it," Harper said.
Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery County, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, did not return calls for comment yesterday.
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